Urban Calligraphies. The Palimpsest city.

Urban Calligraphies. The Palimpsest city.
Photo: Isabel Aparici
"Urban Calligraphies" is an experience to stimulate a critical community cartography of informal voices, captured on city walls.

Isabel Aparici Turrado
Barcelona, Spain.
I am a curious wanderer, a careful listener of the city.
Field of work
Design, Photography, Curating, Communication
Project category
Raising awareness
Project submitted

I am a cultural project coordinator, author and researcher based in Barcelona.

My academic background is in Communication and Anthropology. My practice explores the intersections of the built environment, gender, linguistics, and design.

I’ve been professor of Urbanistics at the Laboratory of Sustainable Housing for the XXI Century (Fundació UPC), and have co-authored the book Barcelona Singular (2017). Having been deeply involved in the publishing sector for many years, I am currently working at Disseny Hub Barcelona.

In 2006, I initiated the documentary project 'Urban Calligraphies', which involves a photographic archive of messages found on city walls. This project organically emerged from my experiences while exploring Barcelona. At the moment, the project comprises approximately 3,000 images of graffiti, most of them accessible through a website and an Instagram account, alongside an interactive map and analytical texts of the images.

"Urban Calligraphies" presents a critical examination of the messages inscribed on city walls. With this project, I aim to explore the expressive potential of the city. I strive to amplify the voices of independent individuals, often anonymous, and understand the perspectives of communities that may be in conflict with the mainstream narratives.

This evolution of my current project unfolds in three stages. "Setting Up" involves examining calligraphy maps from other cities and strategizing locations to discover these urban linguistic practices within our own city. "Searching" entails exploring the city to document informal voices expressed on its walls. "Cartographing" involves consolidating the findings to create a collaborative map and interpreting the results.

During this final stage, several questions arise: Which are the themes that are more present in these messages (climate crisis, political conflicts, gender, decolonization, etc.)? From what perspectives are they approached (mainstream, critical, etc.)? What forms do they adopt (from graffiti to artivism)? Where in the city are they situated?

The environmental crisis is featured on these walls, both through graffiti and as the subject of artivism. However, it's imperative to consider sustainability from social and political angles as well. Equity, social justice, freedom of speech and equitable access to resources and opportunities are crucial topics that are often found on these urban landscapes that represent the current concerns of its inhabitants. The project addresses all these topics, aiming to raise awareness and provoke meaningful conversations around them.

“Urban Calligraphies” conceptualizes the city as a palimpsest: messages are ephemeral, erased, and rewritten. In certain instances, they endure as remnants of past eras. From Pompeii to our digital metropolises, walls have perpetually served as canvases for social, political, and cultural dynamics, inherently non-neutral.